If you’ve got your Bibles, please turn to John chapter 1. That will be the passage we’re studying this morning, John 1:1. I apologize I don’t have the pew page number for you on that, but John 1:1; the fourth gospel of the New Testament. Before we hear God’s Word, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
Father, the words that were just so beautifully sung to us we take to be our own. We need to know about this Savior who was born to die. Would You open our minds now and may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight this morning, You who are our Rock and our Redeemer. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
John 1:1. This is God’s Word:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Thus ends the reading of God’s Word. May He add His blessing to it?
Well growing up, one of the time-honored traditions in our household was like many families. We did the family summer trip which with me and my three brothers always proved to be a good time. One of the favorite trips we did was right before my senior year of high school. We went to our nation’s capital and kind of did all the sightseeing, tourist things. And one of our favorite spots was going to the Capital Building. And if you’ve ever been there, there’s a masterpiece of sculpture that leads in the east entrance to the rotunda known as the Columbus Doors. They’re 17 feet high, about 22,000 pounds in weight. And what they are is, they’re a gilded door that have different scenes from the life of Columbus, from the time that he was born to asking for the charter to make his famous voyage, to his death in the lower right-hand panel. And you see the doors set the stage for what you’re going to see that follows. They tell the story of what you’re walking into with our nation’s capital and its rotunda.
When we come to John 1 this morning and these opening verses, they are like those doors. They set the scene for everything else that’s going to follow. They tell us the story in miniature. Now this is the prolog of John’s gospel, verses 1 through 18. And these verses are astonishing for any number of reasons but they really, again, lay out all the themes that John is going to touch on throughout his gospel. And so they’re critical, they’re integral for the rest of the gospel. What we want to focus on this morning is just one verse as we think about the incarnation, as we think about God becoming man. We’ll just look at John 1:1, we’ll dwell here, and we’ll look at it under three points. We’ll look at, first of all in the first clause, the eternal Word. The eternal Word. And then in the second clause, the personal Word. And then finally in the last clause, the divine Word. So the eternal Word, the personal Word, and the divine Word.
The Eternal Word
Look with me there again at the opening words of John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word.” Now John is a Jew and like all Jewish boys he had grown up in the synagogue. He was a fisherman by trade. But without a doubt, almost every day of his life he would have known a few truths unmistakably clear. And one of those truths came to him from one of the most famous passages in all of the Scriptures, the opening words of the Bible themselves, “In the beginning, God…” Those words, my friends, are categorically unique throughout all of world literature. And it’s popular today to kind of hear the notion that all world religions are basically the same. They teach basically the same message – do nice things, be a good person; all roads basically lead to God in the same way and all religions basically teach the same thing. I’m anxious for you to know that in Genesis 1:1 we come across a sentence that is nowhere else, nowhere else in world literature. You can read the ancient creation myths of the Sumerians; the earliest recorded writings we have of the human race. You can read the ancient creation myths of the Babylonians. You can look at the coffin texts in the first kingdom of Egypt and you will never come across a sentence like, “In the beginning, God…” And John, as a good Jew, would have known this sentence set his God apart from everyone and everything else on offer.
God is Distinct From False gods
And it wasn’t just that this form of literature that comes to us in Genesis 1 is different. It’s that the God that is revealed in Genesis is different from any other god. When you read back through world history, what you see are all the strivings of mankind to make sense of this inescapable, religious impulse within him. And he dreams up all kinds of ways to relate to God. The millions of untold smoking altars throughout the history of our sad and fallen race, tell us the story of man being a religious creature. But one thing in all the history of man’s religions that we’ve never seen man come up with, apart from this little, forgotten people in a little, forgotten corner of the world’s major crossroads of empires, is, “In the beginning, this one God.” One God who transcends time and space, who is outside of time, who makes everything else that is not Him who chooses to come down and relate to His creation. Friends, there’s nobody else like Him. Never in the history of the world do we find anything like the opening verses of Genesis. And so when John begins his gospel this way, it’s not a mistake; it’s not a coincidence. He is connecting the creation account with everything He’s going to say about Jesus.
The Coming of the New Salvation
Why does He do that? Because when you read the Old Testament, the story of redemption begins to be told beginning at Genesis 3 as we heard a few weeks ago where God makes this promise that He’s going to send a Savior. And when the prophets want to describe, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what this coming salvation is going to look like, they use two of their favorite scenes from the Old Testament to describe it. They use the creation account and they use the exodus. They say the new salvation that is coming is going to be like a brand new world that’s brought forth, just like we read in Genesis 1. Or, it’s going to be like the exodus on a grander scale, on a far vaster plane. That’s what’s going to happen when this Messiah, this promised one that we’re talking about, finally shows up. It’s going to be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. It’s going to have effects on a cosmic and a personal level. And John, by connecting his gospel to Genesis 1:1, is saying to all of his original hearers reading this, “That day that was promised has dawned! The one we’ve been looking for, this is He! That’s who I’m going to talk to you about for the rest of this gospel,” as John connects for us creation and redemption.
And the main thing he’s going to want us to see, if you would read through the rest of this gospel, is, just like creation was totally God’s work – He comes and He speaks and that which was nothing comes to be – just like that, John is going to tell us our salvation is where God saves us and we contribute nothing. That’s the connection He wants us to see. That’s why He brings creation and redemption together – for us to see just like God made the world from nothing, so He saves us with no contribution from ourselves. That’s why John begins here.
And notice what he calls Jesus. He calls Him, “the Word.” Now that was popular in the earlier part of the last century for Bible critics to read this and say, “Look, if you read back through world history, you’ll find all of these conceptions of the ‘logos’ principle.” That’s the Greek word here for “word.” It’s “logos; logos” – however, you want to pronounce it. And they would say, “Look, if you look back through history you’ll see everybody’s kind of got this logos myth. And that’s what John is really drawing upon. He’s borrowing from the cultures around him.” Nothing could be further from the truth. John is not borrowing from the cultures around him. John has read his Old Testament. As we heard from Psalm 33, which is representative of the entire Old Testament, God’s Word, His logos, is that creative, sustaining principle by which He makes the world, by which He governs the world, by which He sustains the world. And John is saying that “Logos, that One who has always been there, this is the One who is going to come down to us. This is the One who I want to talk to you about. It’s not borrowed from pagan literature. It’s lifted directly from the pages of the Old Testament.” That’s what John wants us to see.
The God-ness of Jesus
And therefore, the overarching point from this first clause, from the very first words of John’s gospel is simply this – Jesus is not like anybody else. And that’s another thing we hear today, isn’t it? “Jesus was another great religious teacher.” My friends, open the Book of Mormon. Open the Koran. You will never read, “In the beginning was Joseph Smith.” “In the beginning was Mohammad.” “In the beginning was Buddha.” You’ll never ever read a sentence like that. No, John is concerned that we see Jesus has never left the option for us to make Him simply a side-lined, disposable Savior. By starting here, he’s telling us this Word, this God, who we’re going to learn about, is the One who becomes flesh and He’s not like anyone else. He’s not another great, religious teacher. He doesn’t come just to show us the highest ideals of humanity. No, He’s always been there. There’s never been a time where the baby who was Jesus of Nazareth was not! Before He became the baby who was Jesus of Nazareth, He’s the eternal Word.
My friends, when’s the last time you’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer God-ness of Jesus? The sheer weight of the fact that what we gather here to sing praises to this man named Jesus who’s the God-Man that He is, in fact, the God-Man! He’s not just a man; He’s not just another option on the world religious smorgasbord but He really has always been there and then comes down to us! Have you been overwhelmed by that? Have you ever stopped to take in the fact that when we celebrate Christmas we ought to, as one author put it, “put our crash helmets on”? We have no idea what we’re saying. The power of God that comes down to us; the One who’s always been there – have we been overwhelmed by that? Have we stopped just to take in the sheer beauty of the incarnation? So in the first place we see the eternal Word.
The Personal Word
Then in the second place, John tells us about the personal Word. Notice how he puts it. “In the beginning was the Word,” and then he writes, “and the Word was with God.” John’s a fisherman, as I mentioned. People stumble because they say, “How can a fisherman write this?” Well, ultimately it wasn’t just a fisherman who wrote it; it was God, the Holy Spirit, behind him. But it does remind me that we should, as ministers, all be anxious for everybody here to realize that the Bible was not written simply for those who love to study theology or who are theologically inclined or who have masterpiece minds. This Word was written by a simple fisherman. And I’m going to tell you why that’s important here in a minute, but for the moment, just pause and think about it. This Word was written for everybody sitting here. This is an accessible Word. This is a lowly fisherman who’s writing some of the most amazing things our race has ever heard! That’s how God does it, isn’t it?
And why do I say that? Because John is so precise in his wording right here. He’s going to use that little word, “was,” three times in this one verse. And there’s different ways to use the word, “was,” in the Greek in which John is using. And the way he uses it here is a “was” that denotes or shows us relationship. It’s not just a simple “was.” It’s a “was” that says, “This Word was in relationship with God, always, always forever.” He’s got a different type of “was” that he’s going to use later on, but in this opening verse, he’s very precise in how he puts things. And he’s doing this so that we see this Logos is not just an eternal principle out there. He’s a person. And it’s that personal element that is so vital for us to grasp.
Again, this about today, my friends. If there’s one massive assumption that underwrites every bit of our politics, every bit of our education, every bit of our public policy, every bit of our laws, if there’s one grinding, massive assumption that runs underneath like an inexorable current that can never be stopped it is this, boiled down very simple – you and I, at the most fundamental level, are bits of impersonal matter and energy which have evolved over billions of years to be the thinking, breathing entities that we are today. That assumption, that everything at root is impersonal – sure, there’s personal things like love and justice and beauty, but ultimately those personal entities reduced to impersonal things, that assumption, without exception, controls everything we think, say, and do today in all of our major institutions. And this verse is on a direct collision course with that assumption.
The Oneness of God
Do you see what John is saying to us? There’s the one God. We just read what Jesus said; the greatest that we’ve ever heard. The great commandment, the great confession that every Jewish person heard. The Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” There’s one God; that was drilled into the ancient Jewish mindset and still today. And John says, “Yes! And that one God was not alone!” And later on in his gospel, we’ll read that there’s a third who is called God, the Holy Spirit. But for now, John says there’s God the Father and there’s this Word who is a personal being who is also God right next to the Father, always and forever, destroys the notion that all you and I are, to quote Carl Sagan, the atheist, scientist who memorably put it in the old Cosmos TV series, he said, “Human beings are nothing more, nothing more than $7.20 worth of chemicals.” John 1:1 says, “No! No! You do not reduce to a dollar sign because before there was chemicals, before there were dollar signs, before there were Carl Sagan’s, before there was a world, before there were galaxies spinning so far off that our best, our brightest telescopes could never discover them, before there was that, there were these! The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!” The three persons in one God, loving each other, perfect harmony. The world never, never reduces to basically impersonal bits of chance collocated atoms and energy. But back, back, back before all that is God and the Word and the Spirit. In five words, John lays waste to the most prevalent assumption of modern man.
We Were Made to Love
And let me say as an aside why right now that’s good news. All of us, everybody sitting here today that hears me, longs to be loved and longs to love. “It is not good that man should be alone.” We were made to love. And if you think everything reduces to basically impersonal matter and energy that feeling cannot be explained. Your day to day experience cannot be explained. Why you feel such a deep connection with your friends, your spouse, your parents, your children, your grandchildren, your siblings, that is such a part of who we are it makes us human – doesn’t it? That we love and long to be loved and there’s no explanation for that outside of the Trinity. If God is not three persons in one God forever there, always showing that mutual love to one another, then human love is meaninglessness. But you see what John tells us is true. So love makes sense.
The Divine Word
He’s given us the eternal Word, the personal Word, and then John closes with the divine Word. Notice how he puts it. “The Word was God.” From ancient times in Church history, this has been a stumbling block. Even up until today, Jehovah’s Witnesses commissioned their own translation of the New Testament in the 1950s and they translate this phrase, “The Word was a God.” That’s not what John is saying, friends. Translated very woodenly, the way the original reads is, “And God was the Word.” And the way that John is laying it out for us, it’s almost as if he’s doing it like this; it’s a crescendo. He’s saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!” That’s how it reads. It’s almost like John is so excited he can’t even contain himself. He’s overwhelmed with this thought. It brings it to a head. This Logos he’s described is never an impersonal being. He’s a fully personal being but He’s also God. And John the fisherman gives us a masterpiece of theological precision. On the one hand, he does not confuse God and the Word so that you’ve got one God who manifests Himself in different ways at different times. No. On the other hand, he doesn’t say there’s two Gods. He says there’s one God and both are God! And this Word that will become flesh and tabernacle amongst us is God.
Isn’t that overwhelming?
Jesus is the Reason for the Season
I love Christmas. I have so many good memories growing up around Christmastime. This is just to be very candid – one of the hardest times for me to be away from home; to be away from where I grew up in South Carolina and remember Christmases there. And I love the decorations. I love what we have here. I love looking at our tree when we eat dinner every night and seeing the story of our family there in our ornaments. But for all the love and beauty of the Christmas season, friends, do you know what it’s for? Christmas is about walking up to the threshold of mystery of how the One who was eternal and always there could come down and be a baby. The One who made babies needs to be nursed! The One who thought about, as it were, and created molecules to make wood is born in a stable! Straw doesn’t exist for Him to be born on unless He wants it to! And that’s all we can really say without stuttering because we cross the threshold into mystery. That’s what all this is designed to show us. That’s what we should remember when we see Christmas trees and poinsettias and sing carols and enjoy family. It’s that we were made for this. We were made to connect deeply. And most importantly, we were made to give praise to the One who is described in the mystery of the incarnation, Jesus, who is God! That’s what we were made to do, my friends.
And you’re starting to see just in one verse why the Church father, Augustine, described John’s gospel as “deep enough for an elephant to drown in and accessible enough for a child to splash in.” Deep enough to exercise the greatest minds that have ever walked the face of this earth and accessible enough that you, dear children here this morning, know what I mean when I say Jesus was God. That’s mystery. That’s why God does it this way.
We all Want a Personal Universe
Let me say just a couple of things in closing, just two things from this passage that it shows us so clearly. The first is this. Every one of us wants a universe that is ultimately personal at its root. Every one of us! Even the atheist who cheerfully affirms that “All we are is matter and energy and so it doesn’t really matter what you do, how you live; just try to be a nice person. But in the end, you die and that’s it.” Even the atheist who cheerfully affirms that wants this universe to be a place where that’s not true. In fact, all of us live our lives as if John 1:1 is true. Nobody in here wants to think that the feeling you get when you fall in love, when you hold a child when you enjoy a great meal with a friend when you have deep connection with other human beings, nobody in here wants the universe to be where that means nothing.
And you see if you opt to say that everything reduces to matter and energy, let me tell you some of the consequences. They’re chilling! A few of the more brave writers throughout history have had the courage to take these consequences to their logical conclusion. I think recently of Professor Alex Rosenburg at Duke University, chairman of the Philosophy of Science department. In a recent book called, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Life Without Illusions, he says on page 3, he says, “Why should you be good?” And his answer is, “Because it makes you feel better than being not-good.” And he says, he asks this question, “Is there any moral difference between killing children or helping the poor?” And he says, chillingly, “There is no moral difference between them.” And here’s his argument. If you believe that the universe is, at root, basically impersonal, then that’s your option. None of the stuff that we care about matters. Forget getting upset when you see piles of corpses from pictures from Auschwitz. Forget being upset when we hear about human sex-trafficking. Forget being upset at the injustice and poverty and fallenness you see all around you.
On this view, none of that matters. It’s worse than not mattering; it doesn’t mean a thing! That’s the high price we pay when we say everything at root is impersonal. And John mercifully corrects our vision and says, “Because this is true, because the Word became one of us, all of that matters.” We should care about injustice. We should hate poverty; we should hate the abuse of children. All of the things that arouse our deepest emotions as humans, those are real, those are right, those are true because John 1:1 is true. That’s why it matters.
Our Redemption From God
And the final thing is what this verse gloriously shows us about our redemption. Going back to what we said earlier, the tale of our human race is that every other religion teaches you how to work your way back to God. The Gospel’s the very opposite of that. Let me give it to you in a nutshell what John 1:1 tells us about our salvation. God comes down to us to do for us what He requires of us. God comes down to us to do what He requires of us, for us. That’s why He comes! That’s what this verse is about. It’s about God coming down to people like us who are not interested, who are dead in our trespasses and sins, who all these feelings of love and justice make us human so much and intricately bound up into all of our humanity is our fallenness, our sinfulness that makes the incarnation necessary and that’s why this is good news – because He does for us what He requires of us! Nobody else teaches that, friends. Nobody. Only here, only in the Gospel.
And if one word describes all of our lives this time of year it’s what? I’ve said it I don’t know how many times this week. “How are you doing, Gabe?” “Crazy busy.” “Busy.” As my father-in-law likes to say, “Mach III with my hair on fire!” Busy! That’s the word that describes our lives right now. And really the Christmas season is just a scale model of our lives in general, isn’t it? All the time we are doing, striving, busy, active. And that’s how we relate to each other. That’s how we relate to institutions around us. We are wired to do and that makes John 1:1 hard to grasp because John 1:1 is an invitation to see that when it comes to your relationship with God and mine the first principle is not “What do you do to obtain it?” but “What has He done to give it to you?” That’s where we start. Not what we do to work back to Him, but what He has done for us. And that is good news for burned out, exhausted, dulled, bored, overly-stimulated people like you and me, isn’t it? That everywhere we turn, every way we relate, is about doing. And here we see not about our doing; here we read not about what we can do but what He has done. And that, my friends, is why we sing, “Joy to the World!” That’s why it makes all the difference anywhere in the world to understand that it’s about God’s action first when it comes to our salvation.
It reminds me of the story of one of the most unlikely scenes in all of history. October 25, 1914 – the brutal trench warfare of the First World War. And the Germans had their trenches dug and the British had their trenches dug and one of the German soldiers, for reasons we still don’t know to this day, put a candle in a tree behind their parapet, and then another, and then another. And the firing ceased. And then the other side, the British, began to do that. And one soldier ventured cautiously out of his trench and began to walk across the field from the British side and then a German. And then the next they knew they were shaking hands, exchanging tobacco and jam and food and even addresses. There are stories of people who connected on the battlefield that day who, after the war was over, got to know each other again. And all of a sudden the generals overseeing both sides, to their amazement, saw all of their troops shaking hands, laughing. Those who had been shelling each other 24 hours beforehand, they began to play soccer. They laughed together. And it culminated with them linking arms and singing, “Silent Night.” And for one brief day, in what is now known as the Christmas Truce, enemies were reconciled.
My friends, John 1:1 is the original Christmas Truce. Here’s where we read about a humanity in constant, sinful rebellion, an enemy of God, and God comes and ceases fire and sends His Son to, as it were, link arms with us and sing carols with us. And the best part about this Christmas Truce is that it does not last simply for a day. Because of Jesus, it lasts forever. And that’s good news. Let’s pray!
Our Father, thank You for making peace by the blood of His cross. Thank You for giving us a Savior who actually saves. Thank You for doing for us what You require of us. Bless us as we go forth from this place, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
As you’re sitting down, if you’ll take your Bibles and turn to the book of James, we’ll continue our study of the book of James this evening. The passage we’ll study tonight is James chapter 2 and verses 14 to 19. You’ll find that on page 1012 if you’re using a pew Bible. Once again, welcome. If you’re visiting with us, it’s good to have you here; we’re glad you’re with us this evening. James 2:14-19. Before we hear God’s Word, let’s pray together!
Father, we are asked a piercing question by Your inspired apostle this evening. “What good is a certain kind of faith?” Father, our hearts’ desire tonight is to have genuine faith. Would You give it to us if we lack it? Would You grow it if we have it? And in all things, would Jesus be made to be more beautiful and more believable than all the things that so easily take our eyes off of Him. We pray in His mighty name, amen.
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